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Glimmers of hope for the second half of the 2022 Steelers season: Defense

There are always glimmers of hope, even in a rebuilding season, if you know where to look. First, we are going to focus on some potential positives for the Steelers defense in the second half of this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are facing a daunting task. They are most definitely a rebuilding franchise, one who desperately wants to win every game they participate in. Problem is, they aren't talented enough as a roster to do so. If they were, they would be the Super Bowl contending team that they strive to be. That is simply not the case this season.

However, the cupboard isn't totally bare. Far from it, actually. With a little good fortune, like limited injuries for example, plus the continued growth of Kenny Pickett and the rest of the young talent on offense, the Steelers seem almost destined to win enough games in the second half of this season to assure that they will remain mediocre for the near future.

Something they have been for at least the past five seasons. Just good enough to win enough games each season to damage their draft positioning, in a league designed for parity. The worst teams get the opportunity to pick first. If those teams choose wisely, they get the generational talent needed to improve, compete, and create parity in the process. That's good for business, and the bottom line.

If you consistently hover around mediocrity, the system is set up to keep you there. The NFL's version of Groundhog Day. You can always look for a blockbuster trade or big money free agent signing, in a desperate attempt to escape your self imposed purgatory, but chances are you lack the foundation necessary to make those types of maneuvers prove successful in the end.

There really is no shortcut to sustainable success, without a sturdy foundation on which to build. The Steelers have learned that lesson the hard way.

By focusing on patching holes in the roster, especially at the skill positions, the Steelers have allowed their foundations to crumble. Now they have a hodgepodge of talented pieces that simply don't fit together properly. They need someone capable of taking the scattered remnants and constructing a sturdy structure. But first, they have to lay the foundation.

As Steelers fans, we must trust the rebuilding process, and hope for the best. This rebuild could take a few years, but may prove shorter with some good fortune. It's imperative that we support the team, and try to enjoy the incremental improvements throughout the progress. It's imperative to our long term health, at least my own.

I believe that the Steelers defense is set up for substantial growth and improvement in the second half of 2022, which could be a precursor of things to come in 2023.

First off, T.J. Watt is ready to return, and he is highly motivated. He attacked his rehabilitation like a man possessed. Watt reminded me of a wild animal anxiously awaiting an opportunity to escape every time the cameras would pan to him standing on the sidelines. He is a true MVP, in that he makes all his teammates better than they already are.

With Watt back on the prowl, teams won't be able to focus their pass protection on Alex Highsmith. I feel certain that Highsmith has been having sleepless nights, dreaming about dodging continuous chip blocks by running backs. Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, and company should reap the benefits when quarterbacks are forced to step up in the pocket to avoid Watt flying around the edge. The whole front seven will feel the positive repercussions of T.J.'s return.

We have all seen the impact of Watt's absence on the Steelers pass rush. With Watt, the Steelers have the best pass rush in the league every year. Without him, basically nonexistent.

Teams have been disrespecting the Steelers defense in recent weeks; running double reverses, throwing touchdown passes to the QB off a double reserve, flea flickers, and other daring play calls. All because they had the time and protection to feel confident about running those high risk plays. That all changes with Watt on the field. He wreaks that nonsense, not enough time or protection to get cute and creative on offense.

The biggest benefactor in Watt's return could very well be the Steelers secondary, especially if the Steelers ferocious pass rush returns with him, and the Steelers coaches finally get the opportunity to add the little wrinkle on defense we have all been expecting.

With Damontae Kazee finally ready to be activated off the injured and suspended list, the Steelers will be able to utilize some three safety packages on occasion. Three impressive and versatile safeties, I should mention. Fitzpatrick is the ball hawk, Edmunds is the LB/S hybrid, and Kazee is capable of manning the slot, middle, or deep. Their usage should provide the Steelers better coverage of the middle of the field, which has been a huge weakness. More Kazee should equal less Robert Spillane in coverage.

Hopefully the acquisition of William Jackson lll signals the start of a trend towards more man coverages for the Steelers. When I say man coverages, I am referring to press man coverage, where you jam and shadow the receivers, something that the Steelers almost never do.

The last time the Steelers implemented that type of coverages was when Joe Haden and Steven Nelson were the Steelers starting cornerbacks. They really haven't had the right personnel to run those aggressive coverages since Nelson left. Now with Jackson, Kazee, and company around; coupled with the return of T.J. Watt and hopefully a much improved pass rush with him, the Steelers maybe willing and able to play the more aggressive style of defense needed against modern NFL offenses.

That's something to get excited about and look forward to, a glimmer of hope if you will, during the second half of a rebuilding season.

The next article in this two part Glimmer of Hope series will focus on the Steelers offense.